Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Personal hygene in space

It's time for another entry featuring a Discovery News in the spirit of Sleeping in space, which lay at the intersection of space and health.  Tonight, it's How Do Astronauts Shave In Space?

Personal hygiene becomes very difficult when there’s a lack of gravity. How do astronauts shave and brush their teeth in space? Trace breaks down the ways that astronauts take care of their bodies.
That's enough to make me look for a video about using a space toilet. SciShow has one that asks How Do Astronauts Do Their Business?

So how do astronauts manage to pee and poop in microgravity? And what happens to all of their waste? Do you really want to know? If you do, the answers are inside!
As Sulu would say, oh my, TMI!

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Archdruid on Ebola and other epidemic news

I gave a partial update to Third American doctor infected and other Ebola news in No Ebola in Windsor in which I followed up on part of a comment I left to Technological Superstitions at The Archdruid Report.  It's time for the rest of my comment, Greer's response, and more of the week's Ebola news.

I begin with the key sentence of Greer's that prompted my comment.
The Ebola epidemic in West Africa has continued to spread at an exponential rate as hopelessly underfunded attempts to contain it crumple, while the leaders of the world’s industrial nations distract themselves playing geopolitics in blithe disregard of the very real possibility that their inattention may be helping to launch the next great global pandemic.
That gave me my opening.
President Obama actually talked about Ebola on Meet the Press, saying that it could pose a danger to the U.S. and that the country should send troops and resources in.  That might be wiser in the long run than chasing ISIS, AKA The Sith Jihad, around Syria and Iraq, even though that would be a more popular thing to do, as people understand a fight with a human enemy better than an effort to contain The Red Death.  Speaking of which, the same people who observed relationship between food prices and unrest and predicted the onset of the Arab Spring and then the current spate of crises in Ukraine, Syria, and elsewhere, are calling attention to a model of Ebola spread that could turn into a global pandemic by just adding intercontinental transportation into the mix. That's an issue that was pointed out in "The Hot Zone" 20 years ago.  Welcome to the science-fiction future of two decades ago.
Greer's response was more chilling and alamist than usual, which is saying something.
Pinku-sensei, Obama's fairly good at talking. It's doing anything when he's finished with the speech that's his problem. At this point I think a global pandemic that could leave a quarter or more of the world's population dead in five to ten years is a serious possibility.

Greer wasn't alone in his grim assessment.  Rene concluded his comment by stating "as a retired public health professional, [I] do agree with your assessment about the possibilities for an Ebola outbreak."  On that cheery note, here's the story Reuters ran on Friday about the epidemic, which I included in a comment to Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Solar storm and aurora).

As Ebola grows out of control, WHO pleads for more health workers
By Kate Kelland and Tom Miles
LONDON/GENEVA Fri Sep 12, 2014 11:20am EDT
The number of new Ebola cases in West Africa is growing faster than authorities can manage them, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday, renewing a call for health workers from around the world to go to the region to help.

As the death toll rose to more than 2,400 people out of 4,784 cases, WHO director general Margaret Chan told a news conference in Geneva the vast nature of the outbreak -- particularly in the three hardest-hit countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone -- required a massive emergency response.

Sarah Crowe, a spokeswoman for UNICEF, said the U.N. children's agency was using innovative ways to tackle the epidemic, including telling people to "use whatever means they have, such as plastic bags, to cover themselves if they have to deal with sick members of their family".
The version of the story at Reuters India includes the following bullet points.
* Cuba to send 165 health workers to help in Sierra Leone

* WHO's Chan calls for more international support (Adds Dutch doctors, Piot comment, UNICEF comment)
Follow over the jump for more on the situation from Reuters and Agence France Press.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

This weekend's auroras

The following article was among the five most read on Reuters on Friday, earning it the position of featured story in last night's Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Solar storm and aurora).

U.S. skygazers could get rare glimpse of northern lights
By Victoria Cavaliere
SEATTLE Fri Sep 12, 2014 7:58pm EDT
(Reuters) - Stargazers across a wide swath of the United States could get a rare view on Friday of the northern lights, a colorful cosmic display normally only visible in far northern latitudes.

The northern lights, or Aurora Borealis, was expected to be visible after dark on the East Coast from Maine to as far south as Maryland, and across large parts of Michigan and Iowa.

Forecasters said northwestern states including Idaho and Washington were expected to get the best view of the phenomenon, in which the sky is illuminated with streaks and swirls of green, red, blue and yellow.
While I didn't see any northern lights here, other locations were much luckier.  The image above came from Maine via Spaceweather.  Also, Space.com posted a really spectacular video, Auroras 'Will Never Be Forgotten' From X-Flare's Solar Storm.

Chad Blakley (http://lightsoverlapland.com) captured a vibrant display of Northern Lights over Abisko National Park in Sweden on Sept. 12, 2014. They were generated by a KP-7 geomagnetic storm that hit Earth as a result of two coronal mass ejections.
That reminds me of the aurora I watched 22 years ago, but that's a story for another time.

Encounter with Triton 25 years later

Time for another post in the spirit of Decade: Cassini arrives at Saturn.  This time, it's a 25th anniversary of an encounter, that of Voyager 2 Sailing Past Neptune's Moon Triton from JPL.

Sail past Neptune's moon Triton, with data obtained from NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft in 1989. The historical footage has been restored and used to construct the best-ever global color map of the strange moon.
The new Triton map has a resolution of 1,970 feet (600 meters) per pixel. The colors have been enhanced to bring out contrast but are a close approximation to Triton's natural colors. Voyager's "eyes" saw in colors slightly different from human eyes, and this map was produced using orange, green and blue filter images.

In 1989, most of the northern hemisphere was in darkness and unseen by Voyager. Because of the speed of Voyager's visit and the slow rotation of Triton, only one hemisphere was seen clearly at close distance. The rest of the surface was either in darkness or seen as blurry markings.
One can still get new information out of quarter-century-old data.

That's one installment in the promise I made in September 2014 in space and skywatching to resume posting space and astronomy updates.  As this was from Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Bardarbunga eruption), which was from three weeks ago, it looks like I have a lot of catching up to do.

Marching bands of the zombie apocalypse

For my Sunday entertainment entry, I'm going to take advantage of my status as probably the only doomer blogger who writes about marching bands and drum corps to present marching band shows with zombie themes.  If nothing else, they demonstrate how pervasive the idea of a zombie apocalypse as popularized by the show "The Walking Dead" has become.

I begin with the Ferndale Marching Band - Puget Sound Festival of Bands 2013.

Performing at the Everett Memorial Stadium on Oct. 26th, 2013, the Ferndale Marching Band put on a show like no other. Zombies, intense music, classic marching, drama, dancing, special effects, and even the iconic, Michael Jackson's Thriller. All around pure entertainment. Worth the watch.
Unfortunately, this isn't Ferndale, Michigan, but Ferndale, Washington.  However, I've seen the local Ferndale H.S. band and this is a show they could carry off.

Follow over the jump for more marching bands of the zombie apocalypse AKA "The Marching Dead."

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Examiner.com article on USA Today poll

Michigan Democrats lead in USA Today poll
A poll published Thursday afternoon by USA Today shows Democrats leading in all contests for statewide partisan offices surveyed.  U.S. Representative Gary Peters led former Secretary of State Republican Terri Lynn Land by 9% for U.S. Senate.  Former U.S. Representative Mark Schauer edged Republican incumbent Rick Snyder by 2%.

Farther down the ballot, the poll conducted by Suffolk University continued to show Democrats with more support than Republicans, all of whom are incumbents.  Oakland County Clerk Lisa Brown was well ahead of Republican Brian Calley by 10% for Lieutenant Governor.  Michigan State University professor Mark Totten led Bill Schuette by 7% for Attorney General.  Even Detroit attorney Godfrey Dillard managed a 4% lead over Republican Ruth Johnson.

The poll also looked at the generic Congressional ballot and the 2016 Presidential election.  A plurality said they planned on voting for the Democratic candidate over the Republican candidate by a margin of nearly 4% this year.  For the Democratic nomination, an overwhelming majority favored Hillary Clinton (60.8%) over Joe Biden (17.45%).  On the Republican side, undecided led at 17.02% with Jeb Bush and Mike Huckabee tied for second at 11.17%.
Much more at the link in the headline, including statistics for all candidates, a video about the U.S. Senate contest featuring Terri Lynn Land putting her foot in her mouth over equal pay for women, and summaries of two other polls this week.  One of those polls included a look ahead to the next presidential campaign.
For 2016, poll respondents overwhelmingly favored Clinton over all the potential Republican nominees surveyed.  She would beat Ted Cruz by 14%, both Chris Christie and Mike Huckabee by 12%, Jeb Bush by 11%, and Rand Paul by 10%.
Good news for Democrats, indeed.

Friday, September 12, 2014

September 2014 in space and skywatching

It's been way too long since I posted any space updates, the last one being Sleeping in space, which fits into this month's Heal theme.  Time to start making up for that with these two previews of the month's space and skywatching events that I originally posted in Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Blair Mountain and Labor Day) on Daily Kos.

First, JPL tells its YouTube subscribers What's Up for September 2014.

View the red star Antares near the red planet Mars, plus the Zodiacal Light that points towards Jupiter in the morning sky.
Next, Hubble Space Telescope describes Tonights Sky: September 2014.

Backyard stargazers get a monthly guide to the northern hemisphere's skywatching events with "Tonight's Sky." In September, Mars and Saturn are visible low in the evening sky and the star cluster M2 in Aquarius is featured.
That felt good.  Expect more of these alternating with entries about health and current events.

No Ebola in Windsor

In my comment to Technological Superstitions at The Archdruid Report, I passed along this bit of news.
Ebola may already be spreading through travel. There is a patient exhibiting Ebola-like symptoms in a hospital in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, right across the river from Detroit.  That's very close to home, literally.
I learned about it from this WXYZ news report: Ebola scare in Windsor.

I should have kept following that story, as the information was out-of-date before I posted it over at Greer's blog.  The headline of WXYZ's follow-up says it all: Officials say Windsor, Ontario patient does not have Ebola.  Whew.

Just the same, local hospitals are preparing, as WOOD-TV in Grand Rapids reports in Spectrum Health preps for unlikely Ebola.

The deadly Ebola epidemic is a long way from Grand Rapids, but the city's largest hospital is prepared for the unlikely event that it does.
I'm glad the hospital is prepared.  Just the same, I hope, its staff never has to actually treat the disease.  That will mean that the epidemic has reached Michigan.

Another fall in gas prices surprised me

When I wrote "I don't expect any more price drops this week" in The parachute ride begins with fall gas prices, I was premature.  The same day I posted that, all four neighborhood stations, including the one on the corner, lowered their price for regular to $3.41 by nightfall.  Based on GasBuddy's Detroit data, that shouldn't have happened yesterday, when the Detroit average was $3.54.  In fact, it's still a bit ahead of the curve for today, as the Detroit average is just above $3.52.  By tomorrow, it should be about right so long as the average price for the metro area keeps dropping.

Although the bad news is that I was wrong, although I was wrong in the way I'd like to be, the good news is that the neighborhood outlets are now at the national average of $3.41 and local prices are below where they were last year both before and after the price drop.  Before yesterday, when the stations were at $3.45, they were 14 cents below where they were a year before when they were selling regular for $3.59.  Should the neighborhood stations remain at $3.41 through tomorrow, they'll still be 14 cents lower than they were on the same day last year when the local price was $3.55.  I'd post Professor Farnsworth except that I'm saving that for when prices drop below $3.32 and that there is better news this week that I'm saving him for.

As for why I was wrong, it was probably because I didn't look at wholesale commodity prices yesterday and the local outlets were reacting to falling prices on that front.  Follow over the jump for the latest on those.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The parachute ride begins with fall gas prices

Since I wrote Bad and good news for gas prices over Labor Day weekend, my expectations that first the corner station, then all four neighborhood stations, would lower their prices after Labor Day were confirmed, although the corner station was not cooperative at first.  It did match the other three stations down the street for a day or two after Labor Day, but then promptly charged into No Man's Land by shooting its price up to $3.65 while the rest remained at $3.49.  By the weekend, it dropped down to $3.59, then $3.54  By Monday morning, it finally matched where the other three stations had been at $3.49.  By that time, it was already behind the curve, as the one station still open down the street (the other two were closed because of the power outage caused by the 10th worst storm in DTE history) had lowered their price to $3.45.  By the afternoon, the corner station had joined them.  As of Tuesday, the other two stations had their power restored and joined the rest at $3.45.

When I checked GasBuddy on Tuesday, the neighborhood stations were selling in line with their price history of being a dime below the metro average, which was $3.55 at the time.  In fact, the one station opened from Saturday through Monday was able to resist raising their prices, as the Detroit average shot up to $3.66 during that time.  The neighborhood stations are still selling at their usual discount, as the metro area mean has only gone down to $3.54.  I don't expect any more price drops this week.

By the way, the national average is the lowest it's been in 30 days, in fact, the lowest it's been since the end of February, at $3.42.  That should translate into lower prices in a week or two here should this trend continue.